California Potbellied Pig Association, Inc
Potential Pig Parent
Are You a Potential Potbellied Pig Parent?
by Nancy Shepherd
While pigs have held a place of high status in Chinese and Eastern Asian cultures for centuries, there is a certain stigma attached to the pig in America. Where did all the ridiculous sayings related to pigs originate? “Sweat like a hog.” (Pigs are incapable of sweating.) “Dirty as a pig.” (Pigs are very clean and if given the opportunity will only use one corner of their pen as a toilette.) “Stink like a pig.” (Pigs have absolutely no odor.) Now, I can relate to the saying “Eat like a pig.” Pigs really smack their lips and chew with their mouths wide open...in other words, they totally enjoy the eating experience.
A pig as a household pet is really nothing new. I’m always amazed at how many people I meet who had a childhood experience with a runt pig raised in the house. Pigs are very sociable, adaptable, hearty, clean, and intelligent. There is also something very cosmic about the porcine species. It’s difficult to verbalize, but there are those of us humans who have an unexplainable connection with pigs. Their personality and appearance simply beckon many of us to become personally involved. Some pig enthusiasts own elaborate pig paraphernalia collections, while others make a pig or two or three a part of their family and lives. In this article I will outline pig related information that will assist you in making an educated decision about becoming a pig parent.
Social: Pigs are social by nature. In their natural habitat they live in a group and a pecking order is established and maintained by body and verbal pig language. If a pig is irritated, she may throw her head in a side swiping motion, or she may scream loudly. (A contented pig ouffs around making quiet, satisfied noises that are very pleasing.) The important thing to remember is that you need to establish yourself at the top of the social hierarchy in your home or your pig will determine that she is “top pig” and dictate the rules of the roost. There is nothing worse than a pushy pig! Because pigs are social by nature, they may become bored and restless when they are expected to spend inordinate amounts of time alone without either human or other animal interactions. Hence, you need to be creative in providing a pet pig with entertaining distractions. You may even decide to adopt a pair o’ pigs to ensure you never have a bored or lonely pet.
Communicative: In my opinion pigs have extremely advanced communication skills. Examples of vocal communication include the “grunting” a mother pig emits prior to feeding her young; “barking” that warns of impending danger; and “squealing” in anticipation of eating or indicating displeasure or pain. Some individual sounds are: “Aroo” that means “You aren’t getting me what I want fast enough.” “Ha ha ha,” a quiet, hot panting that indicates acquaintanceship, a sociable “hello.” What I call a filth noise similar to the sound your Uncle Charlie makes when trying to cough something up means piggy is really PO’d.
Curious: Pigs are curious by nature. They spend hours rooting in the ground (if given the opportunity) or snurdling about your home with their nose to the carpet or floor seeking out any stray tidbits of food. Their inquisitive nature can be advantageous when it comes time to train as pigs will maintain a high level of attention when stimulated with new ideas and, of course, the primary motivation...FOOD!
Intelligent: Man rates the pig as the fifth most intelligent animal with man ranking first, followed by monkeys/apes, dolphins, whales, and pigs. They function by instinct, intuition, and memory. While they have no innate sense of right or wrong and have no conscience, they learn very quickly and don’t forget what they master. You need to stay one step ahead of your pig or she will train you to do exactly what suits her fancy. Pigs are much like children. They find your weak spot and manipulate until they get their way. If you give a pig an inch, she will most certainly take many miles. However, it is this very intelligence that appeals to many who fancy pigs. You can indeed nurture a very rewarding and interactive relationship with a pig. A pig will treat you like an equal if given the opportunity. Never underestimate the ability of a pig.
Affectionate: Pigs are very affectionate animals. They love companionship and body closeness. Many pig owners actually allow their pig to share the bed and maintain that a porcine sleeping partner is not only warm and cuddly, but doesn’t wiggle, squirm, or hog the bed.
Size: The potbellied pig is quite a sturdy animal with short legs, a slightly swayed back, a pendulous belly, a short tail ending with a flowing switch, short, erect, ears, and a snout that varies from short and stubby to long and elegant. The weight of a pig is most deceiving because they are so hard-bodied. A pig who measures 14 in. tall by 24 in. long and 60 lbs. takes up very little space (about half the dimension of an ottoman) and is a totally manageable size for a house pet and travel companion. Compare this size pig to a 100 pound German Shepherd who is taller and longer than a coffee table, with an extension (the tail) that is capable of knocking everything off the coffee table. Remember: A potbellied pig is not full grown until she is two to three years old and a reasonable range is between 50 and 150 pounds. People seem to get hung up on the weight of a potbellied pig. To me the important factor is health, movement, and social flexibility of the pig in terms of how she will fit into your lifestyle, not on how much the pig weighs. Granted, pigs are not as agile as the traditional dog or cat pet. A pig may need a ramp to assist in stair climbing and getting in and out of a car, but this is a simple task to accomplish.
Senses: The potbellied pig has a keen sense of smell. It is reported that a pig can smell 25 feet under the ground. Pigs are used to unearth such culinary delicacies as truffles for our eating pleasure as well as sniff out drugs for law enforcement purposes. While a pig has excellent hearing capability, she does not see very well.
Life Expectancy: Potbellied pigs have only been in the US since 1985 so it is difficult to determine an average life span. Estimates in this regard are between fifteen and twenty years. I would tend to go with the fifteen year prediction. If a pig is allowed to exercise regularly, is not overfed, and is examined and vaccinated annually by a veterinarian, she should live to a ripe old age. Both adult size and longevity are directly related to how the pig is cared for. Of course, genetics also plays an important role, but management is of utmost importance.
Advantages of Owning a Pet Pig:
• Longevity providing for a long and rewarding relationship
• Clean and odor-free
• Non-allergenic in most cases• No fleas
• Very little shedding
• Quickly trained: litter box, tricks, harness etc.
• Does not bark
• Not destructive like a puppy
• Low maintenance: annual vet visit, low fed consumption
• Communicative and affectionate
Disadvantages of Owning a Pet Pig:
• You may not be zoned to own a pig.
• You may not have a vet available who knows how to treat potbellied pigs.
• Pigs can become spoiled and manipulative.
• Pigs require a commitment of time and energy from their owners.
As you can see, I list far more advantages than disadvantages; but, bear in mind that I am a pig person from way back. Owning a pig is similar to becoming a parent. Patience and love are required and it is not a responsibility to be taken lightly.
Impulse buying a potbellied pig (or any pet, for that matter) is a bad idea. You need to totally acquaint yourself with the nature of the pig and your responsibilities as a pet pig owner. There are several excellent books available to assist you in this educational process. A Pig's Eye View by Sandy Moore and Miniature Pot-Bellied Pig First Time Buyers Guide by A.K. Garret both provide honest facts about pigs as pets and are beneficial in helping you decide if a pig fits into your lifestyle. If after reading these two texts you feel that, indeed, you are ready to pursue a life with a pig, I recommend you also read Pat Storer’s Pot Bellies and Other Miniature Pigs. Your resource library won’t be complete without a copy of my book of Potbellied Pig Parenting that you can order directly from me. Take the time to familiarize yourself with all aspects of the potbellied pig prior to adoption.
The most important points are:
• Do not adopt a pig who is under six weeks old or who was weaned before five weeks of age. Pigs can develop behavioral problems if weaned too early because they did not learn from mom and littermates their place in the world as a pig.
• A pet pig, whether male or female, should be spayed or neutered. A female will cycle every twenty-one days and exhibit symptoms similar to PMS -- not a pretty predicament. An intact boar will have an offensive odor and act way too manly for any one’s good. If the breeder does not supply your pig already spayed or neutered (which I recommend), make certain that you are referred to a vet who has experience with spaying and neutering procedures on potbellied pigs. • You should receive a health guarantee with your pig and be given the opportunity to have your pig examined by a veterinarian (before the adoption is final) to ensure the animal is in good health with no genetic defects.
• You should receive support information including care, feeding, housing, training, and expected veterinary needs.
• The pig you adopt should be up-to-date on appropriate vaccinations and deworming.
• Your prospective pig should be perky and healthy looking (no ribs or backbone showing) with tail wagging, a good hair coat, no runny nose or eyes, and tractable. The pig should not limp or show signs of unsound structure.
DO NOT buy a potbellied pig at a swap meet or out of the back of a van at the corner truck stop. You are just asking for trouble. I don’t recommend getting a pig from a pet store either, unless they can supply appropriate food and support information as well as the pig’s litter registration paper indicating the breeder.
Don’t get caught up in the moment. Here’s the picture. You’re holding a cute and cuddly, three week old, bottle baby who is being touted as everything you could hope for. You are not given the opportunity to see the parents or litter mates. You are told the circumstances surrounding the young, pre-weaning age piglet you are cuddling. “The mother got sick and couldn’t nurse her babies.”.. WHY? “The piglet wouldn’t nurse, so was taken away from the litter and bottle-fed.” WHY? Be wary of these kinds of stories. I can guarantee you that heartache is just around the corner.
For the ride home, I definitely recommend that you kennel your piglet. Hopefully, the breeder has desensitized Miss Piggy to the travel carrier or it may be a scary trip. If you take the precaution of putting your pig in the kennel, you won’t need to worry about potty accidents or a flying pig who could cause a car crash. A kennel-savvy pig makes a lot of sense for future fun outings or trips to the vet, so you might as well get started on the right foot with crate-training.
You need to locate a veterinarian in your area who has experience with potbellied pigs or is willing to learn.
Have your new pig examined by a vet within the first week to make sure Miss Piggy is in good health. This will also serve as an introduction of your new family member to your veterinarian. If an emergency should arise and you haven’t established a relationship with a DVM, you are putting your pig in real danger.
Hopefully this article will assist you in making an educated decision about adopting a potbellied pig. They are truly wonderful and unique creatures who can make the most challenging and rewarding pets and pals.
© Nancy Shepherd 1994
Pig O' My Heart Potbellies
304 CR 438
Rocheport, MO 65279
Pigs are extremely sociable, enjoying good company,
even if it belongs to another species.